Three men stood before me, hats in hands. Not a one of them wanted to meet my eyes.
‘Tommy run off again.’ said the one.
‘He took the baby with him this time.’ agreed the other.
I shook my head. I knew Tommy and his family all too well. I had delivered his sister into this world with my own hands. I was god-mother to both the girl and to Tommy. I knew their father had hands of steel and he liked to use them, on his mates, on his wife, on his kids, on anyone handy when he was in the mood. Tommy regularly ran off. For him to take his sister meant very bad things. I said a quick prayer for his mother, who wouldn’t leave that house to save her own life, but would surely send the boy running off with his baby sister if she thought the moment warranted it.
I eyeballed the three before me. Neighbors of the family. They knew what went on in that house. Walls thin as cloth they were. Everyone knew everyone’s business. We might be a community that kept to itself, but we took care of our own and we kept our neighbors’s secrets. We kept them until they couldn’t be kept any longer.
Here was one that could not be kept anymore.
‘Fine.’ I got up, dusted the seat of my pants and walked into the house.
I changed my shirt, grabbed my whip and my gun and set out. I took Fireball with me. That horse was as steady and silent as could be. I sat quietly atop her, giving her her head and letting her lead the way. I closed my eyes, muttering a prayer under my breath, waiting for the Universe to send me some sign as to where to go, as to what I needed to do.
I sighed, releasing all my pent-up frustration. Breathe in peace. Release the angst and ire. Slowly calming myself, settling into the rhythm of the horse’s stride. The calm overtook me, replacing my usual turmoil. I felt steadier, more solid.
I knew where we were going. The idea of what I had to do once I got there hid in the back of my mind, teasing me. I heard wings buzzing and not much more. I didn’t like that so much, but I had a job to do. I could not shirk it.
‘Out to Morehead.’ The mare did not deviate from her course. She had us nearly there. She knew long before I did. Typical.
I had an idea the men would try to follow. I had another idea the boy’s father would be out there before too long as well. Neither scene fit into the plan falling in place in my head, so I sent out a plea to the Universe to keep them all at bay. I also asked if the mother could come, if she would please. Her help I might need, even in her frail state.
Sure enough, out at Morehead there was that little pond that Martin had put in so he could stock it with all his fish he liked to catch. He often went out, day or night, pole in hand, whistling a tune under his breath, to sit for hours. Whether he brought fish home or not was irrelevant. The important part to him was just the sitting.
Tommy sat at the edge of that pond, tears dripping down his face, in sore need of a snot-rag to wipe his nose.
He pointed into the water. ‘They took her in there.’
He nodded and that’s all I got from him then.
I slid off my horse and took her a good bit away to tie her, loosely, to a tree branch. Intuition said keep her away from the main thoroughfare for this next bit.
I gave my gun to Tom and told him to use it should anyone come.
‘Where are you going?’
I jerked my head towards the water. ‘I have to go get her.’
‘Get her’ He shook his head, trying to clear it. ‘She’s alive?’
I shrugged, aiming for nonchalant. ‘They above tell me it is so, so it must be.’
He nodded, clinging to that rifle as if it were a life jacket.
I walked a good piece away from him as well. I stood at the place where the earth gave way to the water. I stared out into the shadowy waves. I listened to the frogs calling. I listened to the insects flitting this way and that. I heard birds call overhead.
I did what I do. I started to sing. The old words. The ones that fell over me in dreams. I shut my eyes, afraid of what would come, and I sang. I started out quiet, but as the power within me grew, I sang louder. As the power gathered outside and around me, I danced along with the song. I tranced out. This for me is a good thing because when times like these hit, I don’t always enjoy the process.
This time, it was bees.
I’m allergic to bees. I’m terrified of bees.
Hives of bees surrounded me. I felt naked in my jeans and old flannel. They enveloped me. Their furry little bodies smelled of dust and faded flowers. I fought hard not to cough, not to sneeze. I stopped singing with my voice, allowing the melody to flow mentally so I could keep my mouth closed. They twisted through my hair. They prodded my ears. They nestled between my fingers.
A voice beckoned. ‘Go.’ The soft motherly voice I knew so well from these issues in the past. She always took great care of me, so despite my anxiety, I moved forward as cautiously and as calmly as I could.
I didn’t realize I was in the water until the cold wet hit my hips. I had been so worried about the bees, about not scaring them and not hurting them, I didn’t recognize what I was doing. The bees, however, knew and seemed to be fine with these events. Again, I heard her voice urging me to move on, go deeper. The bees never let go of me. They formed some sort of protective layer around me…and soon a layer around us.
I could not see a thing had I chanced it enough to open my physical eyes underwater, so I asked for help in that department. My inner eye opened and the path grew clear.
I finagled my way through underwater brush, trees that Martin had cut and thrown in when the pond was new to ensure the fish had good places to hide and thrive, muck and mud. In what I took to be the center of the pond, the little girl, not quite a year old yet, lay curled up in a golden bubble. The girl slept easily, a smile curling her lips. Her little cheeks were red by nature. In her hands, she clung to a small knitted bunny rabbit that I had made her before she had deigned to arrive in this world. It was her favorite toy.
I thought I was going to choke. I had to save this little girl. I didn’t understand the threat here. I didn’t know what was required of me. I swam with a bee cocoon around me. What could I do? I started to panic.
Then, the Mother spoke in my ear. I relaxed enough to work, but not clearly understanding. I raised my hands and allowed Her light to burn through my palms, clearing away whatever darkness had crept between that girl and me. I felt the bees melt off of me, and I prayed for their safety and their lives as I slid nearer the child. I knelt and picked her up, cradling her to my chest. She giggled in her sleep, adjusting her body to ride more comfortably. What was comfortable for her was not necessarily all that great for me, but whatever it took to save us both and get us back on dry land, that would work for me.
I returned the same way I had come down, rising out of the waters, cuddling the dear thing. I didn’t notice the bees were still around me, as in still on me, and on her. The closer we were to land, the more the bees distanced themselves from us. By the time I stood back on green grass, the last of them returned to the swarm. They did not immediately fly away but seemed happy to retain their formation and wait for..whatever was coming.
Tom stood rigid and furious, rifle cocked back and ready to fire. He faced off with his father, who was screaming red in the face and held a club in one hand. The three men who’d come to me stood in a loose semi-circle behind them. All but Tommy watched me surface from below the pond. All three of them saw me carry the child up with me.
The father fell to his knees, grabbing his hair as if to tear it out, bellowing like some demon.
I stomped over, and kicked him in the knee. Hard.
‘Shut up!’ I spat at him. ‘You’ll wake the babe!’
I stormed off to stand behind Tommy. You might expect a boy of eleven in fear for his and his sister’s lives from their own father to be scared spitless and shaking in his boots. Not my Tom. He had endured hell with that man. He had watched his mother take beatings, his dog take beatings. Even the horses were regularly cuffed and smacked. Tom stood sure and he stood ready. Not a man there thought the boy unwilling nor unable to put a bullet through any of their heads. And none there could blame him a bit either.
Just then, Lisbeth, the mother, came screaming over the hill on foot. Her hair wild and her skirt hiked up. Her chronic illness made it dear for her to walk, much less run…yet here she came, at top speed.
She darn near tackled Tom and me, bellowing back at her husband non-stop the whole time. She snatched the baby from my arms, listening for breath, listening for heartbeat. She kissed me on the cheeks and on the lips, still snarling breathlessly at her husband.
He at least had the sense to bow his head and take every bit of the abuse. He knew he was caught. He knew he had earned it.
One of the three of his cronies pulled him up to his feet and produced handcuffs. They cuffed his hands behind his back and lead him away.
Tom held the baby as I helped his mother up onto Fireball. Tom handed up the baby. I shoved him up behind his mom. He clung to her for dear life. I led Fireball down the path towards home. We were halfway there when the baby woke up.
At least they were all safe now.